By Phil Callighan with Rick Phillips

A hot tub (also known as a “spa”) is one of the most pleasurable and versatile products you can own. Whether you buy one for health/therapeutic reasons, socializing, intimate times or family fun, you will enjoy your hot tub much more, and avoid disappointment, if you know what to look for when buying one.

In general, there are two types of hot tubs: “Portable” or self-contained, and permanent or in-ground. Most of the information provided here applies to the self-contained variety.

Before diving into details, decide how many people you would like your hot tub to hold. When friends and relatives visit, will you want to take turns enjoying your hot tub?

You should then identify where your hot tub will be located. Consider access to and from your hot tub location, the level of privacy you desire and the view from your hot tub. What color of hot tub will appeal to you and fit this setting?

Will it be located on a patio or deck? Inside your home? Will it fit through your door? If inside, will there be adequate air ventilation?

Is the structural strength of the floor adequate for the weight of the spa? Recognize that a typical 3-person hot tub weighs approximately 2,500 pounds when filled with water.

Will you have easy access to an electrical connection? What are the electrical specifications of the hot tub? Will you be close to a garden hose or have another way to fill the hot tub with water?

Next, ask yourself what features are most important to you. Today, many hot tubs are equipped with much more than pressurized water jets and comfortable seating. Many include cascading waterfalls, colorful lighting, high-end audio systems and arrays of powerful water jets.

When shopping for a hot tub, visit dealers who have a working hot tub demonstration model, so you can immerse yourself in the actual hot tub water and check it out. This is no time to be shy. If no working demonstration model is available, you should sit in a dry hot tub in order to make comparisons.

For example, when sitting, the water should reach at least shoulder level; if it’s too low, you won’t get the full hydrotherapy effect.

How does the hot tub fit your body? Rest your head against the cushioned neck rests. Does your neck rest perfectly or are you hyper-extending to reach a neck rest?

As you inspect the features of a hot tub, examine the seating configuration. Are you able to move about easily? Is there sufficient lumbar support to let you recline comfortably in the hot tub? Are seats long enough from front to back to allow a taller person to get their shoulders down into the water without slipping off the front edge of the seat?

Do the water jets and jet systems allow you to customize your hydro-massage experience? Are they giving you the massage effect you desire? How many of the water jets are adjustable? How loud are the jets and pump?

Be cautious about the number of water jets in a hot tub. Lots of static jets might look good and seemingly justify a higher price, but it’s more important to understand how the jets can be adjusted, what sort of pressure they can deliver and if they can be aimed where you want them.

Now turn your attention to water quality. To keep the water in your hot tub clean and clear, ask what chemicals the hot tub manufacturer suggests. In order to reduce the use of chemicals in your hot tub, some manufacturers also recommend you buy an Ozone purifier to use with your hot tub, and use with chemical-based sanitizers.

What sort of water filtration system is used? Filtration is a step-by-step process, so the more steps in place, the more pure your water will be.

You should also consider the number of filters the hot tub uses. Some manufacturers dedicate one filter solely to a 24-hour circulating pump and use a separate filter when the hot tub is in use. Are the filters easily accessible for replacement?

What about the water pump?

In terms of performance, efficient plumbing, water jet design and flow control are all more important than the pump’s horsepower. Beware of manufacturers emphasizing large, high horsepower pumps. This is often a ploy to cover up design flaws.

A lower horsepower pump in an efficiently designed hot tub can often produce as much or more jet power as a higher horsepower pump in an inefficiently designed hot tub.

Better hot tubs feature small circulation pumps that continuously filter the water and provide the necessary flow to allow the heater to constantly maintain the set temperature. Hot tubs without circulation pumps rely on the low speed of a two-speed pump turning on periodically to provide filtration, ozone injection and the flow required for heating.

Some premium hot tubs include more than two pumps to ensure adequate power for hydrotherapy, features such as cascading waterfalls and continuous circulation.

Check the operation of the hot tub. Are the controls user-friendly, easy to operate and easy to adjust? Is there a lock-out option if you have small children? Can you set custom filter cycles? Can you adjust the controls from inside the tub?

Is the heating and filtration system fully automatic? Typically, the most vulnerable component of any hot tub is the heater. Make sure corrosion will not occur.

Ask how the hot tub was constructed and ask about its energy efficiency. Estimate your monthly operation costs. Depending upon how they are engineered, some hot tubs may require significantly more electrical power and have higher maintenance costs. Make sure the hot tub is totally insulated, not just fully-foamed.

Because heat rises, the most important factor in trapping heat is the hot tub cover. Most consist of two slabs of polystyrene foam encased in vinyl. Check to make sure the cover seals uniformly against the top rim of the hot tub and where the two halves come together.

In the past, all cabinets or “skirting” surrounding the hot tub were made of wood. However, today there are several high-quality synthetic materials that do not rot or degrade like wood. These synthetic materials can extend the “new” look of your hot tub and virtually eliminate cabinet maintenance. Some are UV resistant, too and will look new for many years, even when subjected to lots of sunlight.

Read the hot tub warranty thoroughly. Beware of the dealer who is reluctant to provide you a copy. What spa parts are covered under the warranty and for how long? Make sure the heater, surface/structure, components, tile and skirt are included.

How does the manufacturer’s warranty compare with other brands? Make sure there are no undesirable limitations or exclusions. How long has the manufacturer been in business? Are you certain the manufacturer will still be around to make the warranty worthwhile?

Consider the dealer. Will the dealer give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a working demonstration model to check out the complete hot tub before you buy? How long has the dealer been in business?

Will the dealer provide complete installation, including electrical connection with a qualified electrician? Does the dealer employ their own installation and service people or are they subcontracted?

Will the dealer be able to service your hot tub after its installed? Does the dealer carry replacement parts? Chemicals?

Can the dealer give you customer names to call for references?

Finally, remember there is always a connection between the price you pay and the quality of the hot tub you purchase. Paying a little more now could save you hundreds of dollars, maybe thousands, in service calls and electricity in the future.

Top 5 Things to Know

      1. Where will you install your hot tub? Check the structural strength of the floor or deck. Is there easy access to electric power and a hose?
      2. What sort of pump and filtration system comes with the spa? Does the spa also include an Ozone purifier?
      3. Does the spa fit your body well? Are the water jets adjustable to deliver the massage action you desire?
      4. What warranty comes with the spa? Is it for 100% coverage or is it pro-rated? Does it exclude some items?
    5. Can the dealer be counted on for complete installation, chemicals and service?

About the Authors: Phil Callighan is Senior Account Executive and Marketing Director for Knorr Marketing (www.knorrmarketing.com), a full-service advertising, marketing and PR agency headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan. A member of the Public Relations Society of America, he is the author of numerous how-to articles and case stories covering a wide variety of topics. Rick Phillips is President of Phillips Lifestyles, Inc. the largest retailer of hot tubs, fireplaces and billiards in northern Michigan.

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